CRD plan to build sewage sludge plant in Esquimalt irks mayor

Esquimalt could soon be home to both the region’s sewage plant and its sludge disposal facility, under a new land deal that the town’s mayor calls a “travesty” for her community.

The Capital Regional District announced Wednesday it had paid $17 million for the 1.7 hectare Wilson Foods warehouse site on Viewfield Road in Esquimalt, as a potential location for a sewage treatment biosolids facility.

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The deal, negotiated in-camera by regional politicians, was only made public after it was signed.

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins blasted the move, calling the secret process a “travesty” and saying her town will be devastated by having both the sludge plant and a treatment facility, planned for McLoughlin Point.

“This is a ridiculous plan,” Desjardins said of the Viewfield Road location, next to the Wholesale Club food warehouse. “It is a site that is within a residential area and it is right beside a large grocery facility.”

It could also be a blow to Esquimalt taxpayers, because it would replace a commercial warehouse with a CRD facility that doesn’t pay any tax.

Desjardins said the sludge plant is likely to drive away Wholesale Club, lead to increased truck traffic, damage the industrial area and devalue nearby residential properties.

“The financial, social and environmental impact to be absorbed by one community could be devastating,” she said.

The CRD sewage committee has previously voted not to compensate Esquimalt for being the home for sewage facilities.

The biosolids facility would turn sludge — left over from sewage treatment — into fuel. It would be connected by pipeline to the treatment plant at McLoughlin Point. The entire project is budgeted at $783 million and set to be online in 2018.

“Putting two treatment sites in one municipality is an inequitable burden to one community,” said Desjardins.

The CRD had originally planned for a biosolids facility at Hartland Landfill in Saanich, connected by an 18 kilometre pipe to McLoughlin Point.

An Esquimalt location would require only a two-kilometre pipe. But savings are offset by the land price, said CRD sewage committee chairwoman Denise Blackwell.

“It’s a wash,” she said. “It will cost about as much to run the pipe to Hartland as it does to build [in Esquimalt].”

The federal and provincial governments are together paying for two-thirds of the project. But they won’t chip in on a land purchase, so regional taxpayers alone will pay the $17 million, said Blackwell.

The main benefit to having an Esquimalt facility for sludge would be to eliminate the disruption caused by building an 18-kilometre pipe to Saanich, she said.

The CRD has been looking, unsuccessfully, for alternatives to Hartland for more than two years. It will start public consultation on the Esquimalt site this spring, said Blackwell.

The board can still vote to choose Hartland and sell the Esquimalt land, she said. The CRD is also willing to re-consider compensating Esquimalt, said Blackwell.

Desjardins vowed to fight the proposal and make it an issue in the May 14 provincial election.

She accused Victoria and Saanich of using their majority on the CRD sewage committee to force the facilities on Esquimalt. “Everybody is happy that it’s not in their backyard, so let’s put it all in Esquimalt,” she said. “Are they steamrolling us? Yes.”

rshaw@timescolonist.com 

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